Researchers from China recently conducted a meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled clinical trials involving 1327 patients and concluded that “acupuncture is effective for CRF [chemotherapy related fatigue] management and should be recommended as a beneficial alternative therapy for CRF patients, particularly for breast cancer patients and those currently undergoing anti-cancer treatment.”
Besides fatigue, acupuncture has been shown in multiple studies to be effective for cancer and cancer treatment related pain. While clinical experience is strong, one study, looked at how this might happen and found that acupuncture “activates 5-HT 1A receptors in the spinal cord and inhibits p-CaMKII” – which in laymens terms means simply that it activates processes in the body that block pain and inflammatory responses.
While the ranges of cancers and cancer treatments make it hard to talk about in general terms, Chinese Medicine generally sees cancer treatments challenging what we call the Qi, Blood and/or Yin of the body to varying degrees in each individual.
When your Qi is low, what we might call Spleen Qi Deficiency, you are fatigued and cold.
What we might call Spleen Blood Deficiency is a deeper version of Qi deficiency in many ways and is related to your “blood”, but is a much broader concept. When your “blood” is low the symptoms of fatigue can be deeper and you may see changes in the hair and nails as well as dipping into or towards anemia.
When your yin is depleted, what we might call Kidney Yin Deficiency, you can feel hot, with nightsweats for example, possible anxious, or just simply tired and wired.
Rectifying these deficiencies is generally what is behind the Chinese Medicine approach in cancer care. While they may seem like nebulous concepts they make sense within the mind of the practitioner and the theoretical framework allows for more systemic treatment which is required to truly help in situations like this.
One study, entitled “The Correlation of Traditional Chinese Medicine Deficiency Syndromes, Cancer Related Fatigue, and Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Patients” looked at trying to quantify the concept of qi deficiency with breast cancer patients. Seeing if the more “qi deficient” they were from a TCM diagnostic approach if that meant a lower quality of life.
While these concepts are critical from a practitioners perspective they are often, unfortunately, part of what makes western medical professionals and patients alike turn their eyes away from Chinese Medicine – thinking it is mumbo jumbo. People can be very critical, and somewhat understandably so, when they hear concepts such as Qi. They are in reality meaningless outside of the full understanding of the theoretical framework of Chinese Medicine. This reaction and lack of attempts to dig deeper, however, is unfortunate based on the sheer amount of published clinical evidence for acupuncture with this range of conditions. More particularly how important they are and how undesirable some of the western pharmaceutical approaches are.
Hopefully this article will help begin an exploration, or continue one, for people having difficulties through cancer treatments and the western health professionals trying to support them. There is simply too much evidence to overlook and too little side effects to not recommend acupuncture for symptomatic treatment of cancer related fatigue, pain, and related issues.